On Friday and Saturday (January 7-8), more than three hundred registered attendees (and about that many more walk-ins for the evening service) gathered for a “symposium on biblical separation.” I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to be among them.
Though the event could be improved in some substantial ways, it was an important step toward developing a biblical separation model that (a) improves on what separatists have practiced in the recent past and (b) functions better in the current evangelical landscape in America.
A significant plus is that this more theologically grounded and thoughtful approach to separatism stands a chance of winning the acceptance of theologically serious young people within fundamentalism (but on their way out) or outside fundamentalism but still listening to its better representatives.
Host pastor Mike Harding described the goal as a “theologically robust” and “biblically consistent” separatism as well as “cultural conservatism.”
What follows is a survey of conference highlights followed by some analysis.
The event began with two workshop periods of about an hour each. Due to a snow storm I hadn’t anticipated, I missed the first hour and walked in just as the second was about to begin. Since I was late, I just headed straight for the nearest workshop.
It turned out to be one in which Dr. Bruce Compton provided an analysis of Wayne Grudem’s view of the NT gift of prophecy (a non-authoritative and potentially erroneous cousin of the OT gift). Grudem’s view has been foundational for much of current non-cessationist thought about the gifts of the Spirit. Compton’s analysis was interesting and helpful and highlighted some of the unresolved problems with Grudem’s view. The session concluded with brief consideration of whether non-cessationism is a separation issue. Compton’s view was that personal fellowship with non-cessationists was not a problem, but that continuationism’s threat to our belief in a closed canon is serious enough to preclude some other forms of fellowship. He explained that this included avoiding ministry cooperation and pulpit cooperation with non-cessationists.
Please consider this post as being intentionally below our usual front page standards. “Intentionally,” because we’re coming off of a holiday and I haven’t completely taken my heels off my desk yet.
What I aim to do here is share some pretty much random thoughts on the year past and the one head from a SharperIron point of view.
Over all, twenty-ten was not a bad year for SI. Site traffic was down about 3% compared to the year before, but from October 1 on, was higher than the year before by a significant and increasing margin. November increased over October and December increased over November. It’s hard to tell yet whether that represents a trend. But I’m encouraged by the fact that we began 2010 with traffic levels below those of 2009 and finished the year well above them.
Of course, site traffic is kind of like church attendance. It’s just the easiest factor to look at to gauge how you’re doing—not necessarily the most meaningful one.
A recent open letter from a college president explaining the reason for inviting speakers previously unwelcome at the school has set off a firestorm of controversy. My only connection with the school is through friendships. At the outset I confess my agreement with the direction the school is taking. I would gladly share the pulpit with the men invited to speak. I would simply like to see a biblical basis for these changes and recognition that past practices, however sincere and well-meaning, went beyond Scripture. In reflecting on my own spiritual journey, I frankly admit that I no longer practice ecclesiastical separation as I did in the past. I have changed my position over the years and believe it is in light of a better understanding of God’s Word. I really believe God changed my position but don’t want to blame Him for any of my imbalances. I have been wrong about some things in the past, am wrong today even if I don’t see it, and will be wrong on some things in the future.
The entire “Now About Those Differences” series is available here.
Finally we come to the hard part. I have been writing about fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. In the process, I have tried to articulate briefly a vision of Christian fellowship and separation. This vision involves a boundary (the gospel), outside of which no Christian fellowship is possible. It also involves a center, the whole counsel of God. Increasing levels of fellowship necessarily index to this center.
In my thinking, separation is simply the absence of fellowship. Outside of the boundary, separation is absolute. No Christian recognition should ever be given. Inside the boundary, separation is decided by the extent to which we Christians mutually hold the faith (the whole counsel of God) in its integrity.